Previewing the MLS is Back Tournament: Group F

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As we countdown the days to the start of the MLS is Back Tournament, Philly Sports Network will preview each of the six groups. Here is a preview of Group F.

One of the best rivalries in MLS, El Trafico (LA Galaxy vs LAFC), takes center stage in the MLS is Back Tournament in Group F. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Dynamo, LAFC, LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers make up the four teams in group F. All of these teams are from the western conference. LAFC, LA Galaxy and Portland all made the playoffs in 2019, while Houston finished in 10th place. These four will duke it out to make it to the knockout rounds.

Matches

Mandatory Credit: MLSSoccer.com

Each team will play the other three to see who makes it out of group F to make it to the knockout rounds. The top two teams with the most points form the three matches will automatically make it to the knockout rounds. The team that finishes in third-place has a shot to make it as well if they are one of the top three third-place teams in the whole field of the tournament.

The matches are set, now is the time to take a closer look at the four teams in Group F.

Houston Dynamo

Houston opens the tournament with LAFC, then plays Portland and they finish off their group stage with LA Galaxy. The Dynamo were not as successful as their counterparts in Group F in 2019, but this tournament is a cleaner restart and presents a more clear goal. Houston will need to play at their best to get past the others in their group, but can they do it? Here are a few things to watch when looking closer at the Houston Dynamo.

Three Things to Watch

  1. Defensive question marks

    Houston allowed 64 goals over the 2019 season and 2 matches of 2020. This is a major area of concern. Going up against the other teams in this group could prove to be a problem for this team.
  2. A possible Dark Horse?

    Their counter-attacking style is one that can pay dividends in a summer tournament like this. The teams that have done well over the past ten years in these types of the tournament were devastating on the counter. Could Houston do the same?
  3. Can they compete with the big boys?

    They seem to stick out against LAFC, LA Galaxy, and Portland Timbers, and not in a good way. LAFC is the supporter shield holders, LA Galaxy is always considered favorites and Portland Timbers have been solid over the past few seasons. Can Houston beat out two of these teams to claim a spot in the knockout rounds?

LAFC

LAFC play Houston, then LA Galaxy, and finish with Portland. The match that sticks out is the LA Derby (El Trafico). This is always a big match but in a tournament setting, it could be even more firey! LAFC has a tactical genius in Bob Bradley and will have to lean on their depth and youth to go far. They should be the favorites to win this group, but there could be some question marks surrounding this club heading into the tournament.

Three Things to Watch

  1. Carlos Vela Watch

    There are rumors out there that the 2019 Golden Boot winner and League MVP will miss this tournament. His wife is pregnant and Vela is still deciding if he will opt-out since his wife will not be able to be with him in Orlando.
  2. Center back pairing

    LAFC shocked many when they traded starting centerback Walker Zimmerman to Nashville FC at the bringing of 2020. Without the solidity Zimmerman brought, LAFC looked a bit shaky in their first few games in 2020. This pairing will need to be solid if they want to go far in this tournament.
  3. Bob Bradley’s tinkering

    Bob Bradley is one of the best coaches in MLS history. He’ll have his team raring to go. One other advantage he has over most of his coaching counterparts is that he managed the US in World Cups, so he knows how these tournaments go, and what adjustments can be made to get results.

LA Galaxy

LA Galaxy takes on Portland, then LAFC and finish their group stage with Houston. The Galaxy will need to find out who they are fast when this tournament starts. They had major problems to start their 2020 season. For them to get through the group they will need to find ways to get their attack going by keeping possession. Being able to play with the ball and not just look for crosses should help this team. When watching LA Galaxy look for the following things.

Three Things to Watch

  1. No Jonathan Dos Santos

    One of the Galaxy’s top midfielders will be out for this tournament due to minimally invasive hernia surgery. He’ll be out for six weeks, and LA Galaxy may feel that blow in their transition from defense to offense.
  2. Chicharito’s impact

    It was not long ago that LA Galaxy relied on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score goals and carry the team on his back. Now that falls o the head of Javier “Chicarito” Hernandez. His first two games of 2020 with LA didn’t look so good, but maybe that will all change in this tournament!
  3. Cross, cross, and another cross

    LA Galaxy’s offensive style of play has been the same for the last few years. All they do is set up crosses from wingers or outside backs to a single striker or runners in the box. This did not work at all at the start of the 2020 season as they only scored one goal. Will they start the tournament with the same offensive strategy?

Portland Timbers

Portland takes on LA Galaxy, then Houston Dynamo and finishes off with LAFC. The Timbers have been a team that has been up and down. The start of their 2020 season was one that did not allow for much to be determined. They were not able to gel as much as other teams. Coming into this tournament, Portland looks like a team that could win the group if things go right, or falls flat quickly if things go wrong. How could this happen? Check out what to watch for this team!

Three Things to Watch

  1. The Chara Bothers

    Diego Chara and Yimmi Chara only had two games together, but they look like the difference makers for Portland. Could these brothers lift the cup at the end of this tournament?
  2. What version of the Timbers will show up?

    Over the past few years, the Timbers have either been MLS Cup contenders or on the playoff bubble. The first few matches in the MLS is Back Tournemnt will show us what version of this team will show up.
  3. Can they win the group?

    If this club comes in and is firing on all cylinders, can they win this group? They should be able to with their talent, but the key will be limiting teams’ ability to break them down on the counter-attack. If they can do this, they can win the group and go far in the tourney.

Group F should be very competitive and could be labeled the group of death in this tournament. These teams will wait the longest to kick off, but they’ll bring the fire once they do get the chance to play!

To learn more about the MLS is Back Tournament, check out our in-depth article on the tournament:

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Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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